Gates Talks Up Office

Speaking to an audience of CEOs at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters, Gates talked up Microsoft Search, which it hopes will displace Google in Internet search as well as within corporate firewalls. Google mounted its own corporate search offensive last week with its new best friend, IBM Lotus Software.

Too often, Web searches remain "a treasure hunt," Gates said. The user frequently ends up with a huge number of selections, many not pertinent to the query. "We need deep relevance. We want to get to the point where you get direct answers," he said, demonstrating that capability on the new Microsoft Search. In the search window, Gates asked for the population of India and received a response—from Microsoft Encarta.

Google's wild success has clearly caught Microsoft's eye. Although it is now the fan favorite, some solution providers said Google should not rest easy.

"Google needs to do more than desktop search because Microsoft will compete head to head with them there. And quite honestly, Microsoft will win. Why? Because they'll end up bundling their search with Windows," said Ron Herardian, system architect at Global System Services, Mountain View, Calif.

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As expected, Gates also spoke on tighter integration of presence and realtime collaboration capabilities both in the current Office 2003 and future Office 12 releases. The Office 12 beta is now due this fall, with general availability slated for the second half of 2006.

The implementation of the new Office, along with Live Communications Server 2005, the upcoming Maestro server and other software, will enable users to get realtime alerts on situations in back-end processes. Alerts can be routed via instant messaging, a VoIP call or e-mail, depending on the situation.

Another big issue is how Microsoft will ease access to relevant data and analysis to help users parse the useful from the not-so-useful information at their disposal.

"While there is definitely information overload, there is also a notion of information underload—where key information about the business and processes is buried in mountains of data," said Betsy Frost, Microsoft senior director of marketing and strategy, before the Thursday event. "We're looking at ways to expose that in scorecards posted to internal SharePoint portals." Microsoft is under pressure to entice its large customers to renew their volume licenses, so the vendor has been a bit more open of late about the features of Office 12. The company has said a large number of these license agreements are up for renewal this quarter.